Beginning of the End of the British Bases in Cyprus?

I had the privilege to represent International Security Forum of Cyprus to the 34th Annual Conference of the British International Studies Association (BISA) which took place at Leicester University, 14-16 December 2009. More than 350 congress delegates from all parts of the globe presented papers analyzing in depth and breadth multiple dimensions of international relations. The BISA represents along with the US International Studies Association (ISA), the top venues for presenting research findings and exchange of views between the academic world and government and non-governmental organizations.

During this congress the UK defence budget trimming was, inter alia, discussed. Consequently, also the scaling down of the British Armed Forces. Already in December 2009, this issue was mooted in a report of the authoritative British Television ‘Channel 4’. Channel 4 reported that the defence cuts would affect bases of the Royal Air Force (RAF). Consequently, the private UK TV channel surmised that among those bases could be the RAF base Akrotiri, Cyprus which is the biggest RAF base outside of British territory. This news item was largely overlooked in Cyprus and in Greece. As far as I could follow, no Greek Cypriot or Greek politician seems to have reacted to the possibility of even a partial British Forces withdrawal from the island after more than half a century of their continuous reinforcement especially during the period of the Cold War.

Indeed Bob Ainsworth, the British Defence Secretary, announced (15 December 2009) that with reference to securing funds for the increasing cost of the Afghanistan war, the British Armed Forces will shrink both in numbers and in hardware. He detailed the cuts as follows:


ï         RAF Cottesmore, Leicestershire, with 3,500 staff, to shut.

ï         RAF Kinloss, Moray, with 1800 staff, to be scaled back.

ï         Some 7,500 civilian staff to lose jobs, cuts in numbers of service personnel

ï         Size of RAF Harrier and Tornado fast-jet forces to be reduced by two or three squadrons.

ï         Nimrod surveillance aircraft coming out of service a year early.

ï         Minesweeper, survey ship and naval helicopters axed.

The defence cuts provoked the strong reaction of Liam Fox, the Conservative Shadow Defence Secretary, who observed that: Making cuts to our wider defence capability when we are fighting a war only strengthens the perception that we have a Government that does not give a high priority to the Armed Forces. He criticized the withdrawal of the Nimrod aircraft, which, he claimed, would leave the submarines unprotected and hamper reconnaissance and long-range search and rescue capabilities.

In a similar reaction the MoD special staff union’s leader spoke of the cuts ‘threatening the capability of the armed forces.’ The secretary general of this union went on to make a rather extreme statement arguing that: our members report that the department is close to melt-down.

In the twenty years that I have been in a position of following developments in the British foreign and defence policy, I confess that a reduction of British military power to such a scale has never happened. Colleagues at the Leicester University BISA Conference spoke of cuts of the order of twenty per cent. At the same time there is a widespread feeling among the leadership and the researchers of the British Armed Forces that the country is from now on unable to play the role of big power on the international chessboard.

The withdrawal of the British Bases is a declared programme commitment of Demetris Christofias government in Cyprus. However, it is not understood how this ultimate aim will be achieved without profound analysis of the geostrategic facts of the region, without the study of alternative scenarios and policy proposals so that the island republic capitalizes on positive changes in the global political process. Such changes may potentially spare the much afflicted island from the years-long foreign suzerainty. The restructuring of the British armed forces may be an opportunity. I intentionally use the term ‘may be’, as this matter deserves profound study. It is a matter that has to do with Cyprus’s security: think for a moment that nearby Iran – which is on a continuous confrontation with the West and in particular with the Anglo-Americans – has recently acquired missiles, within the range of whose Cyprus lies.

The demilitarization of the island is a declared policy of Christofias administration. This affair is complex. For the simple fact that it does not depend only on the Cypriot leadership, either Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot. It is primarily a matter for the ‘so-called’ guarantor powers. I call them ‘so-called’ because on the basis of international law, that is to say the spirit and the letter of the UN Charter, it is inconceivable that the Republic of Cyprus being a full member of the UNO to be at the same time under a regime of trusteeship which grants to the trustees intervention rights. If the demilitarization is to be useful it has to be universal. No Turkish occupation troops, no British bases are conceivable in a demilitarized Cyprus. Otherwise the unilateral dismantling of the Republic of Cyprus’s military forces is pointless. If London and Ankara commit themselves in an internationally ratified treaty providing for an international monitoring system guaranteeing the withdrawal of their troops, the dismantling of their military, spying and other facilities and whatever else they unjustly take advantage of on Cyprus’s territory, then yes Lefkosia may proceed to the dissolution of its own armed forces.

Demilitarized or not, Aphrodite’s island, will not cease to lie at the crossroads of three continents on the wayside of a ceaselessly turbulent region. Consequently, the land, sea and air space of the island will always be useful, if not indispensable, as launching pads for the dispatch of crisis management and humanitarian missions to neighbouring bleeding societies/countries. The Republic of Cyprus forms, as from 1 May 2004, an integral part of the European Union. This irreversable fact entails full right of participation in the peace, both military and civilian, EU missions. The EU has strengthened its international role – the second pillar of CFSP/ESDP – with an increasing number of missions in the last few years; while it is expected that this EU role will continue to grow as the Lisbon Treaty comes into force. The island bears strategic importance for the European missions. It would not be wise for the Republic of Cyprus not to demand a role in such missions and not to reap the ensuing benefits. In the Eastern Mediterranean basisn, the Black Sea and the Caucasus area, Turkey plays with an increasing pace the role of the regional power. Ankara does not hide its neo-Ottoman tendencies. Indeed, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton baptized it an ‘emerging global power’. Ahmet Davutoglou, the Turkish Foreign Minister, speaks openly promoting the bygone Ottoman era as the most peaceful of all in the Southeastern European region and announces the Pax Ottomana (his statement in Sarajevo, Oct. 2009).




Hits: 1882



Very Good
written by George, January 27, 2010 

A very comprehensive analysis. It s time that the Republic of Cyprus rethink of tis future.


written by Willaim Mallinson, January 28, 2010 

A thoughtful article, touching on a sensitive issue. The British bases did not prevent the Turkish invasion. Nor would they if Turkey were to go in for a further land grab tomorrow. The fact is that the British government would like to withdraw from the Treaty of Guarantee, and keep the bases, on American instructions. Britain caved in to Kissinger’s demands, and hung on to the bases after it had tried to give them up in 1974/5.Discussions with the Americans about financing the bases were then initiated.The documents giving the outcome have not been released, to my knowledge, and are unlikely to be, especially if the Americans are already financing the bases in one form or another. Britain and the US have ensured that Turkey will always insist on the bases remaining.The only solution will come through the EU insisting that the bases are incompatible with the acqis communautaire. Indeed, the very btreaties that set up the Republic, along with its ethnically divisive constitution, are incompatible with civilised EU norms.Good luck with your surmising, all you IR pundits.Again, a good article! Sorry not to have time to write more.


Head of Confirmation & Settlement of Transactions Section
written by Ioannis Hatzitheodorou, February 17, 2010 

A interesting and apparently (I am no expert on the issue) in depth analysis from a Cypriot academic, distinguished for his knowledge of 20th Century Cypriot history.
As interesting as the chance of a downsizing of the British forces on the island may be, I can not help thinking of the continuing international (and indeed British and EU) tolerance of Turkish occupation of about 40% of a EU member state.


written by Andreas Evriviades Louca, May 23, 2011 

Despite the fact that the British bases in Cyprus do not offer a stabilizing power to the country itself, England’s concern over their existence is more than evident. While closing down these bases would offer an economical relief to the problematic military budget their importance prohibits such a decision. The recent attacks by British and American forces on Libya launched from the British bases in Cyprus significantly underline their purpose in the area, the ECHELON system program which is used for monitoring the surrounding countries and collecting information is also hosted in them.
It would definitely cause bewilderment amongst the parties affected by the presence of the bases in Cyprus should England proceed with a plan on closing them down. After all they represent a valuable asset for the British military; one could even go as far as to say that they are conquered territory for England, a relic of their colonial days of power that never withered away. Consequently why would a powerful country proceed to concessions against a smaller country such as Cyprus? Additionally we must take into consideration that the leaders of Cyprus never really pressured England systematically into respecting the sovereignty of their republic and reclaim their rights on the grounds covered by the bases.
For current president of Cyprus Demetrius Christofias the matter of the British bases’ sovereignty was part of his pre-election program but he swiftly realized that without a pressure point on this matter he couldn’t reach any progress should he decide to bring it forward. Eventually he opted to relay the matter “the children and grandchildren” of Cyprus and England to solve if such an option will present itself in the future and proceeded to describe the bases as sovereign.
Another deterring factor regarding an eventual return of land is the unofficial plan by England to abandon the British bases territories of Agios Nikolaos and Dhekelia, transferring one piece of each to the Republic of Cyprus and the pseudo-state of northern Cyprus. The reason behind such an unusual act would be to please Turkey, an important ally of England, and ensure that Cyprus will receive as little as possible out of the bases’ closing. Such a conclusion would be catastrophic for Cyprus as the pseudo-state would expand its illegally claimed territory and create new problems regarding a possible solution of the Cyprus problem of occupation.